IT’S HARD to talk about American car magazines without the name Robert Petersen popping up. The publishing titan instigated much of the US automotive media landscape we know today – iconic mastheads like Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Car Craft and Motor Trend. While Petersen Publishing has been bought and sold and traded since it began in the late 1940s, the name remains a cornerstone of Southern Californian automotive culture.
Located on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, The Petersen Museum was first established in 1994 to celebrate Petersen’s passion for automobiles and motorsport and help spread the fire via carefully curated exhibitions. For two decades, it was a mustsee for both locals and travellers and boasted over 300 rare, unique and important vehicles in its 100,000ft2 confines.
But in 2014 the museum shut its doors for a year-long, AU$120 million rebuild.
The redesigned hot-rod-red and steel ribbon-clad building was unveiled in early December last year, and chief curator Leslie Kendall says the new eye-catching, avant-garde exterior design signifies that the museum is “all about things that move”.
Inside, the place is a temple to worship the car. It has clearly been designed and curated by people who get it – who else would think to equip a museum with hoists? There are three
levels of cars, bikes and automotive memorabilia, with over 100 of the museum’s 300-strong collection of priceless and iconic cars on display at any one time. The rest of the collection sits tucked away in ‘The Vault’, awaiting its time under the bright lights upstairs.
Starting on the top floor, visitors get a quick and thorough education on the development of the automobile, from the first-ever cars like the 1888 Benz Motorwagen, to the earliest hot rods such as the Bill Niekamp roadster, to movie and TV cars such as Herbie, the Batmobile and even the Pontiac Aztek from Breaking Bad.
Level two is about progress, development and speed, showing how the automobile evolved into hundreds of different iterations to satisfy demands in utility, looks, speed and power. Household-name hot rods and customs like the Doane Spencer roadster and the Hirohata Mercury proudly sit among collections of rare memorabilia, while a timeline of alternative powerplants takes you from early electric- and gas-powered vehicles through to those of today.
Down on level one, it’s all about beauty, refinement and race-winning class. The Precious Metal exhibit boasts over $120 million worth of silver-painted American and European racing icons, including a Mercedes-Benz W196 and a Corvette Stingray XP-87 race car. You’ll also see Lightning McQueen from Pixar’s Cars here, the Rolling Sculpture collection of rare coachbuilt saloons – including a Bugatti Atlantic 57SC, estimated at US$30-40 million as the world’s most expensive car – and a display of over 20 motorcycles, including a Vincent Black Shadow and a 1903 Thor Camelback.
Over these 12 pages, we’ve compiled just a taste of the many holy artefacts residing within the Petersen house of worship. Here beginneth the lesson. s